“How old are you, five?”
Finn elbowed his incredulous boyfriend who was reacting to what Vance had said and then promptly had to shake his arm out. He really had to learn not to do that. It was like poking concrete.
“You asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday,” Vance replied a little defensively.
“I think it’s an awesome idea,” Finn butted in staunchly and ignored the dark look Talon sent him.
Talon shook his head as if words were failing him.
“What’s an awesome idea?” Sawyer asked as he walked into the locker room.
“Vance wants to go to a bowling alley on Friday,” Talon repeated slowly as if he still couldn’t believe it.
Sawyer grinned. “I haven’t been to one of those since I was about ten.”
“Exactly,” Talon replied.
“And then we can go get a burger or something,” Finn added and Vance’s face brightened a little.
“And don’t let him fool you,” Gael said who had followed Sawyer in nodding towards Vance. “Junior Gold Champion.”
“Of what?” Finn asked.
“How did you know?” Vance asked and then groaned. “Mom.”
Gael grinned. “Yep, even saw the photos. You were very cute.”
Vance groaned again and collapsed onto the bench which creaked alarmingly. Finn’s eyes widened. “Gold champion?”
Gael waggled his eyebrows. “Three years in a row.”
“Wow!” Finn said in awe.
Vance sighed. “Yeah, then when I turned up for the qualifiers after the last year I was banned from competing.” He stood. “Was fun while it lasted, though.”
Everyone was silent for the space of a heartbeat knowing exactly what had happened to Vance in the year between winning and being banned from the sport.
“So what time do you guys want to meet?” Talon asked and mock-punched Vance on his shoulder.
It was packed. And Finn wasn’t sure the poor girl giving shoes out wasn’t going to pass out when she’d looked up and seen their group stood there. She blinked giving the “deer in headlights” look as Vance stepped forward.
“Umm, I’m not sure we will have any shoes to fit you,” she whispered. Finn thought she was gonna cry.
Vance just beamed. “That’s fine, ma’am. I brought my own.”
“Who has their own bowling shoes?” Sawyer hissed.
“Us, for starters,” Gael winked and stepped up next to Vance.
Finn was pleased. Despite it being busy, the lane next to theirs emptied quickly, and somehow no one else seemed to want it. Vance rubbed his hands and gently put down the black bag he was carrying. Finn peered over. “What’s in there?”
Vance opened it and reverently got out a gleaming black and purple bowling ball. It was huge. Finn doubted he would ever be able to lift it with both hands but cradled gently in Vance’s huge paws it looked like a tennis ball.
“Did you win your championships with that one?” Talon leaned over admiringly.
Vance shook his head. “No. It was a present from Mom and Dad after I won the last one. I’ve never used it.” He shrugged. “But it’s my birthday, right?”
Daniel shouted just then. “Finn, come and help me get the beers in.” They both walked over to the bar. “You just made his day.”
Daniel nodded. “They were talking world bowling championships at one point when he was a kid. Juniors obviously.” Daniel stepped up to the bar and started ordering.
Finn sighed. Something else a mark on Vance’s face had ruined. He carried the two jugs of beer and Daniel brought the glasses. Vance was stood rubbing his hands gleefully as Gael sat and entered the names.
Finn’s hackles rose at the derisive words, and he turned expecting to see whoever was speaking watching their group. He was wrong, but he still didn’t like what he saw. They had just finished their first game, and one lane over past the empty one three teenagers plus another kid were playing. He guessed at teenagers putting them all around fourteen. The boy they were all looking at—like he was something one of them had just wiped off their shoe—was a lot younger. Maybe ten, eleven, and looked completely miserable.
One of the older boys sniggered as the boy looked up from where he was picking up a bowling ball just as a fourth teenager joined them.
“You don’t think you’re actually playing, do you? You haven’t got a partner.” The boy that had spoken originally informed him and bumped knuckles with the one who had just arrived.
“Yeah,” sniggered the only girl in the group. “You’d need the baby rails on.”
“No, I wouldn’t,” the younger one muttered and went to sit down at the small table. It looked like he was the only one without a soda and some chips as well.
“Hey, Matt, these shoes are too small. Go change them,” the boy ordered and threw his bowling shoes at the kid. He fumbled the unexpected throw, and the girl rolled her eyes.
“Which is why we won’t let you anywhere near a bowling ball,” she decreed.
Finn blew a slow breath out and caught Talon’s eye. Talon had heard what had been said the same as every enhanced there. It was only that Finn had been stood the nearest he had caught Matt’s reply. Finn really wanted to go over and tell them what he thought, but he knew the team wanted to keep their heads down and leave without any fuss. It was a huge ask just getting them all in a public place for Vance’s birthday.
“I need a partner.”
Finn saw Matt gape in astonishment before he even realized it had been Vance that had spoken. Vance stepped up to Matt, smiling encouragingly. “We can either play your buddies, or you can join us?”
Matt still sat with his mouth open, but the girl piped up again.
“Are you even allowed in here?”
It was Vance’s turn to roll his eyes this time. “Too chicken to take us on?”
The girl stiffened and glanced—suddenly unsure—at the other two boys. The oldest took a step towards Vance. “Set ‘em up.”
“Set ‘em up,” or Taylor was apparently the self-elected leader of the group, although as far as Finn could see he just a self-absorbed righteous douche-bag. The girl was called D.Zee which Sawyer immediately mispronounced as Dizzy as often as he could to annoy her. In fact, when her frustration became palpable Vance intervened with a hand on Sawyer’s shoulder.
They were just kids. Kids that needed a lesson in manners maybe, but Sawyer was in danger of crossing a line. The quick nod Sawyer gave Vance as he backed off showed he knew that.
They suggested two games, and Talon offered to split the team to pair up with the kids but Taylor wouldn’t have that as if he had something to prove, and as it would have been ridiculous with them all playing, Daniel took Sawyer, Eli, and Gael to the spare lane and they played a separate game.
That left Vance and Matt, Talon and Finn, Taylor and D.Zee, and C.J and the last boy to arrive—Mike—all playing in pairs. Vance, Matt, Finn, and Talon were one team and Taylor, D.Zee, C.J., and Mike another. Finn tried not to roll his eyes as Talon went first. Talon had deliberately pulled his strength to be fair to the kids, but he had so badly misjudged it he only knocked over one pin. His second go was a little better but he still only got five. Taylor snickered and took a ball. Of course, he got a strike on his first attempt and high-fived his team.
“Matt, do you wanna go first?”
Matt gave Vance his best deer in the headlights look and shook his head, so Vance took his turn and immediately knocked every pin down. The boys were silent because Vance hadn’t smashed them. He hadn’t hit them so hard pins had ended up one lane over like Gael had the first time. He had been careful, slow, but incredibly accurate. The smile on his face as Matt high-fived him was infectious.
Taylor bristled, and Finn sighed. He honestly thought he would unbend a little. D.Zee remained quiet, but C.J. and Mike both were soon laughing and joking with Vance. Vance even gave them tips on holding the ball, and they were really grateful.
Taylor was the only one who seemed to be getting more pissed off by the minute.
“It’s not his fault,” Matt said quietly as he followed Finn’s gaze.
Finn glanced back. “Taylor’s?” Matt sighed and nodded. Not completely sure what Matt meant he just stayed silent having a feeling more information would be coming. The technique usually worked on the team, anyway.
“He’s my brother,” Matt clarified. “There’s just us now, and my mom works two jobs.” Matt took another breath and looked around to make sure he wasn’t being overheard. Finn didn’t tell him it was likely the team could hear him anyway. Matt was silent for a little longer before he said. “He hates me.”
Finn shrugged. “All big brothers hate their little brothers sometimes. He won’t really.”
Matt nodded emphatically. “He does. It’s my fault Callum got locked up.”
Callum? Who the hell is Callum? “And Callum is?”
“My older brother.”
Finn was getting confused. “Older than Al?”
Matt nodded. “But just by one year.”
“We’re just gonna get some sodas,” Finn called out to the others and practically dragged Matt with him. They stepped around the seating area and walked towards the counter. Finn paused. “Tell me from the beginning.”
“Callum is like your friends.”
Finn did a mental oh and started to understand why Matt was sharing. “He got his scar just before thanksgiving, but we didn’t care.” Matt stared at the floor. “Anyway, I wanted these Nike’s like Eric Salter had. He was showing off. Saying we were trash. So I took them.”
“No,” Matt said like Finn was slow or something and looked up at him. “I took them from the store, but I didn’t even get past the door. I set all the alarms off.” There was a pause. “Dumb, huh?”
Finn’s smile was gentle.
“Anyway, I started crying because the security guard was holding me real tight. Taylor was with me, but Callum was waiting outside. Taylor had some money he got for his birthday,” as if that explained why they were there in the first place. “The guard was mean. He was yelling and trying to take me to the office and asking where my mom was. Taylor was trying to say she was at work, but we knew if she got called out she wouldn’t get paid for the day, but the guard didn’t care, and he was hurting me.”
Finn could understand how it had escalated. “What happened?”
“Taylor went and got Callum.”
Shit. “And what did Callum do?”
“He was just going to talk, but the guy went nuts as soon as he saw Callum’s scar.” Matt raised tear-filled eyes. “He had a gun.”
Finn’s jaw dropped. “The guard pulled his gun?”
Matt nodded miserably. “Callum is fast, real fast. He had the gun off the guy before anyone blinked. But then two more guards came and then the cops showed up. They said Callum was gonna shoot the guard, but he didn’t even point it at him, he just held it so it was pointing at the floor.”
Finn hardly dare breathe. “Did Callum get shot?”
Matt shook his head. “Not with a bullet. These cops had dart things.”
Finn closed his eyes. ENu He could imagine.
“They took him to prison. No one would believe he hadn’t done anything.”
“How long ago?”
“Last year,” Matt took a breath. “No one will listen. They let Mom visit, but it’s in New York.”
So, money. They were stuck. She couldn’t afford to go, miss work or have someone else watch the kids. Finn sat on one of the empty seats and Matt dropped down next to him. “Callum and Taylor were always tight,” Matt explained. “Now Callum’s gone which is all my fault, and what’s worse is Taylor has to watch me when Mom works. Taylor won a thing at school for tonight and got free tickets. He had to bring me, but there was no way he was gonna let me play.”
It was such a mess. Finn took a breath. “Let’s go get the soda. I need to know your full name and where you live. We have a lot of friends that are cops including all Vance’s family.”
Matt raised hopeful eyes. “You think you can get Callum home?”
Finn tried a reassuring smile. “I don’t know if I can, but our boss knows a lot of people. I’m pretty sure he can help.”
Finn would make sure of it.
Five days later Finn stood next to Vance watching for the cop car to pull into the shared parking lot. Gregory had invited Matt, Taylor and his mom to their offices to discuss getting Callum released. Gregory had called in everyone he knew to help, but they hadn’t budged, so Talon had called Senator Bryan Duvall. He’d had to promise a week of his time in Washington to help his campaign, but Finn was going to go with him, and he’d never seen the capital.
He’d made a list.
The senator had even promised them a guided tour of the White House. Talon would be making history as the first Enhanced human to ever set foot in there. The senator said it was a P.R. dream.
Amy, Matt’s mom, reminded him of Connie. He was determined to introduce them as Connie was getting together an unofficial support group together for those parents with enhanced kids. Even Taylor hadn’t said a word in complaint as they had gotten a full guided tour of the field office, and Talon had promised to show him a few hand-to-hand moves in the gym.
Vance’s small grunt grabbed Finn’s attention from where Amy and the kids were listening to Talon demonstrate the new database of enhanced they were setting up.
“But it’s voluntary?” She frowned. “I’m not sure I’m thrilled with Callum being on police files.” Then she blushed. “Not that he isn’t already now of course.”
Gael nodded. “I felt exactly the same, but I was recently persuaded that it would only be visibility that will keep the kids safe. We recently helped a little boy that was being imprisoned by his father. If Bo had been documented and in school, the situation would either never have happened in the first place or would have been harder to maintain for the ridiculous length of time it was.”
Amy’s eyes filled. “I can’t believe Callum got locked away when he didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Amy?” Vance interrupted from the window. “There’s something I want you all to see.”
Amy, Matt, and Tayler rushed to the window just in time to see two cops get out of a patrol car. Taylor sneered but just before he turned away in disgust Finn saw his eyes widen and his breath hitch.
“Callum,” Amy cried and pressed her hand to the glass. Of course, the teenager that got out of the back of the car was too far away and couldn’t hear her through the glass, but because Vance’s brother Chris was one of the cops and it was arranged, he glanced up at the window, nudged the boy and pointed for him to look up.
Callum’s face broke out into a huge smile, and Chris laughed as they both waived. Amy laughed, cried, hugged everyone and fairly bounced on the spot until the door opened and Chris and Callum walked through. He was mobbed. There was shrieking and crying. Finn ducked his head and felt an arm slide up his back and give his shoulder a squeeze. “I don’t think anyone’s watching you, you’re safe,” Talon whispered as Finn drew his sleeve over his wet cheek.
Finn shook his head. “Like you’re not just as bad,” he whispered and ignored the raised eyebrow. He’d seen Talon’s face when they had gotten the call to say Callum was going to be released. His big tough guy was as soft as the rest of them around kids.
He sighed happily, and around him.
Talon accepted a hug from Amy and was dragged over to greet Callum. Vance came and stood back next to him by the window. After a few moments, Taylor slid over next to Vance.
“We get bowling coupons from school when we get a high score or do something good.” He shrugged. “I got another last week I’ve not used yet.”
Finn glanced away so Taylor wouldn’t see his grin.
“Yeah?” Vance replied, equally as casual.
“So, I wondered if you wanted another game? I mean,” Tayler hurried on, “Callum and Matt will be going with me so I thought you could bring a team.” He suddenly seemed to find the carpet fascinating. “It would be better with four though, so you can be on our team if you like.”
Vance’s grin was ear to ear, and he nudged Taylor playfully. Of course, if Callum hadn’t chosen that second to come and talk to them, he wouldn’t have managed to catch his brother and save him from toppling over.
Vance rubbed his hands in glee and Finn chuckled. It was nice to have a Five Minute break from saving the world.